Despite this, boundaries were fluid. Hence, in addition to making the kind of work for which they were best known, the Vasulkas were shooting documentaries for the Alternate Media Center as well as compiling their own informal documentaries of the downtown cultural scene. "We just started going everywhere and asking to tape people," says Steina. Subsequently, they edited some of these events together in a tape called Participation (which is undistributed). It is a kind of counter-cultural happening circa 1969-71. In it, Jimi Hendrix performs a New Year's Eve concert at the Fillmore East; a group of Andy Warhol's actors - among them Ondine, Taylor Mead, Candy Darling, and Holly Woodlawn argue viciously on the David Suskind Show over whether or not they'd been exploited; there are scenes from a transvestite musical by playwright Jackie Curtis; Don Cherry plays impromptu jazz in Washington Square - not to mention an assortment of other events that today elicit pure, undiluted nostalgia.
For the Vasulkas these varied activities typified American culture. In an unpublished 1978 document, they stated,
We were interested in certain decadent aspects of America, the phenomena of the time-underground rock and roll, homosexual theater, and the rest of that illegitimate culture. In the same way, we were curious about more puritanical concepts of art inspired. by McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller. It seemed a strange and unified front - against the establishment.
This thread - "against the establishment" - ran through every aspect of video activity then, whether it was electronic feedback, media environments, or documentaries in which the subjects provided their own verbal "feedback." It was only after video began to become more institutionalized that people began to define their turf. In retrospect, it is very hard to see abstract or manipulated video - now divorced from its original context - as "anti-establishment."
In February 1971 the Vasulkas had their first public showing of tapes on three consecutive evenings at Max's Kansas City. A different program - electronic work, gay theater performances, and the Fillmore concerts - was presented each night, and all were displayed on five monitors. A friend in the audience, Andy Mannik, subsequently found a space that had been the kitchen of the Broadway Central Hotel on MercerSt., and he asked the Vasulkas if they had any use for it. Using money they earned working at the Alternate Media Center, the Vasulkas and Mannik spent two months renovating.19 The Electronic Kitchen opened on June 15, 1971, and the old hotel was converted into the Mercer Arts Center.
The original idea behind what eventually became simply The Kitchen was to establish an electronic lab in which artists could experiment with sound and images. (Because electronic sound and electronic imaging operate on many of the same principles, the Vasulkas wanted to explore this relationship.) In the evening, they had what they called
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